AskDefine | Define zeitgeist

The Collaborative Dictionary

Zeitgeist \Zeit"geist`\, n. [G.; zeit time + geist spirit. See Tide, n.; Ghost, n.] The spirit of the time; the general intellectual and moral state or temper characteristic of any period of time. [Webster 1913 Suppl.]

Word Net

Zeitgeist n : the spirit of the time; the spirit characteristic of an age or generation
see Zeitgeist


Alternative spellings


From Zeitgeist (literally "time-spirit")


  • 1 /ˈʦaɪtgaɪst/
  • 2 /ˈzaɪtgaɪst/


  1. The spirit of the age; the taste, outlook, and spirit characteristic of a period.

Related terms


the spirit of the age
Zeitgeist (pronounced ) is originally a German expression that means "the spirit of the age", literally translated as time (Zeit), spirit (Geist) (Geist)". In some countries it has a different meaning; e.g. in the Netherlands Zeitgeist literally refers to; the mind of the time(tijdsgeest), and mind is understood as the mental spirit (state of mind). The word zeitgeist describes the intellectual and cultural climate of an era. In German, the word has more layers of meaning than the English translation, including the fact that Zeitgeist can only be observed for past events.
Zeitgeist has achieved a unique status among German loanwords in other languages, having found an entrance into at least English.


The concept of Zeitgeist goes back to Johann Gottfried Herder and other German Romantics such as Cornelius Jagdmann, but is best known in relation to Hegel's philosophy of history. In 1769 Herder wrote a critique of the work Genius seculi by the philologist Christian Adolph Klotz and introduced the word Zeitgeist into German as a translation of genius seculi (Latin: genius - "guardian spirit" and saeculi - "of the century").
The German Romantics, habitually tempted to reduce the past to essences, treated the Zeitgeist'' as a historical character in its own right, rather than a generalized description for an era.


"Zeitgeist" refers to the ethos of a select group of people, that express a particular world view which is prevalent at a particular period of socio-cultural progression.
Zeitgeist is the experience of a dominant cultural climate that defines, particularly in Hegelian thinking, an era in the dialectical progression of a people or the world at large. Hegel's main contribution to the formulation of the concept of Volksgeist is the attribution of a historical character to the concept. The spirit of a nation is one of the manifestations of "World Spirit" (Weltgeist). That Spirit is essentially alive and active throughout mankind's history. Now, the spirit of a nation is an intermediate stage of world history as the history of the World Spirit. The World Spirit gives impetus to the realization of the historical spirits of various nations (Volksgeister').
The spirits of individual nations are both the articulations (Gliederungen'') of an organization and its realization. The spirits of individual nations represent a segment of the World Spirit out of which emerges the unlimited universal spirit. A comparison is introduced here between the status of an individual and that of a nation's spirit. In the process of his formation the individual undergoes various changes without, however, losing his identity. As a part of world history, a nation—exhibiting a certain trend expressed in its Volksgeist— plays its part in the total process of world history. But once it contributes its share to world history it can no longer play a role in the process of world history. The submersion in the total process prevents a people's cultural rebirth, because it has exhausted its creativity in the historical growth of its guiding spirit. It is for this reason that one of Hegel's disciples, Michelet, considered the idea of a renaissance of the Jewish people as philosophically impossible.


  • Whoever marries the zeitgeist will be a widower soon or in the near future. - August Everding
  • Opinions that deviate from the ruling zeitgeist always aggravate the crowd. - Germaine de Staël
  • The product of paper and printed ink, that we commonly call the book, is one of the great visible mediators between spirit and time, and, reflecting zeitgeist, lasts as long as ore and stone. - Johann Georg Hamann

See also

External links

  • Christian Adolph Klotz
  • [ Christian Adolf Klotz] in: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4. Aufl., 1888, Vol. 9, Page 859
  • Zeitgeist, History of Ideas
zeitgeist in German: Zeitgeist
zeitgeist in Spanish: Zeitgeist
zeitgeist in French: Zeitgeist
zeitgeist in Hebrew: צייטגייסט
zeitgeist in Italian: Spirito del tempo
zeitgeist in Latin: Genius saeculi
zeitgeist in Dutch: Tijdgeest
zeitgeist in Japanese: 時代精神
zeitgeist in Norwegian: Zeitgeist
zeitgeist in Polish: Duch dziejów
zeitgeist in Portuguese: Zeitgeist
zeitgeist in Slovak: Zeitgeist
zeitgeist in Finnish: Zeitgeist
zeitgeist in Swedish: Zeitgeist
zeitgeist in Chinese: 时代精神
zeitgeist in Russian: Дух времени (фильм)
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